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How Divorce Impacts Immigration and Residency Status

Immigration has always been a somewhat confusing and daunting topic. That’s certainly more true today than perhaps it has been in quite some time. Therefore, it’s important to understand more about the issues, and here specifically, how immigration impacts marriage and then separation or divorce.

When an immigrant marries a U.S. citizen, he or she is granted conditional permanent residency. After two years, if the couple is still married, then the spouse can apply for permanent residency. However, if the couple is no longer together, then things become more complicated.

For marriages under two years, the immigrant spouse is eligible to be deported. However, there are exceptions to this rule as well. If the marriage is proven to be good faith, as in, not solely a vehicle to gain residency, then the immigrant may gain residency status.

However, this is sometimes easily argued against, and it’s an area which courts are guarded. Previous estimates made by Homeland Security Investigations indicated that between approximately 12,500 and 37,500 marriages each year in the U.S. are fraudulent, or bad faith. That’s no small matter, and it’s going to come under increasing scrutiny in the political climate we’re in.

There are also issues at hand of extreme hardship upon deportation, as well as cause of divorce, such as domestic violence or cruelty. So there’s no cut and dry ruling either way. When marriages end after five years, the spouse will typically not be deported. However, obtaining full permanent residency may take longer.

Another consideration is that the citizen spouse may still be held responsible financially for the immigrant party that he or she is divorced from. The citizen essentially is legally considered a sponsor for up to a decade, and should the other party then need governmental assistance, he or she could be held liable to pay for that.

There is a near unlimited range of permutations to these rules. Ultimately, the main factors to consider are timing of the marriage and length of the relationship, the good faith nature of the relationship, citizen and residency status for both individuals, and what type of paperwork was filed, by whom, and when.

There’s a lot to consider here, clearly. And while immigration is a federal matter, divorce regulations are handled on a state by state basis. That’s why it’s always essential that if you find yourself in this position, that you consult with an experienced legal professional from your local area. Don’t make any assumptions or try to handle anything on your own, as it will be clearly to your advantage to have legal assistance by your side.


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